How to Unlock the Secrets to Restful Sleep
One in three Americans don’t get enough sleep, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
It’s a startling and unsettling statistic when knowing how important it is to have a good night’s sleep. The short and long-term impact of sleep deprivation cannot be overstated. Sleep deprivation can lead to:
Though our health depends on what we do and eat throughout the day, our bodies regenerate, heal, and recharge when sleeping. Not only does sleep give us renewed energy in the morning — that’s the idea at least — but it refreshes in ways beyond the physical and mental.
It might seem like a no-brainer, but the benefits of truly healthy sleep (preferably 7-9 hours) are substantial:
Here are some ways to get some truly restful and restorative sleep.
A leading cause of sleeping problems or insomnia has much to do with brain associations.
The brain assigns different places to a unique role. It sees a gym and conjures up images of high-energy, high-intensity workouts. Your place of work will be associated with (hopefully) drive and determination. Finally, your bed is meant to be seen as a place of rest and relaxation.
Spending the day in your room not only has its own litany of mental and emotional side effects but confuses the brain as to what this place is supposed to be. Are we supposed to watch TV here? Play video games? Answer important emails? All these activities can do away with the primary role of a bedroom.
If the brain can’t make up its mind, you become confused, confusion generates anxiety, and late-night anxiety spells out a restless night.
This especially applies to people who work from home and even work from bed where separating yourself from your work and life is physically impossible when wrapped up in a blanket.
The bed is meant to serve very simple purposes, not be the bedrock of your day-to-day operations, says Rachel Salas, Associate Professor of Neurology and sleep expert at John Hopkins University.
“As sleep specialists, we tend to recommend that the bed should be for the three S's: sleeping, for sex, for when you’re sick. That’s it.”
The easiest way to avoid this is to stay away from the room while the sun is up. Though that might not be completely possible sometimes, minimizing your non-sleep time in the bedroom will give your brain a healthy relationship with your bed and thus give your more clarity in the late night hours.
Spend time in the living room, go to the gym after work, walk around the neighborhood or trail — do anything that’ll let your brain know that your bed serves a sole, essential purpose.
Hint: it’s not training for a 5K.
Naps are actually a very beneficial part of your day, if done right.
A 20-30 minute nap can provide a much-needed midday reset and give you a boost to take on the rest of your day. Naps done wrong, however, can disrupt your sleep cycle and be more of a hindrance than a benefit.
Napping too late in the day can cause you to stay up later through the night, giving you that afternoon boost at a time when you need the exact opposite.
Napping after 3 p.m. can start interfering with your night's sleep, though your daily work schedule, age, and even medication use can determine how late you can nap.
Taking too long of a nap causes similar issues. Your body can interpret a longer nap as an actual sleep cycle, causing your internal engine to be up and running when it needs proper rest.
Mastering the art of napping can promote relaxation, improve your mood and give you more energy to take on the day.
Essential oils are all the rage right now — and for good reason.
Essential oils are widely used to promote relaxation and ease, so using them for healthier sleep is a natural progression. Though they might smell and feel strong, they promote a calmer and relaxing night while you get ready for bed.
This one might be the hardest one for most of us, but it needs to be mentioned.
We all know how phone use, primarily social media use, affects our brains, attention spans, and overall well-being. Scrolling through social media or browsing YouTube has become the modern-day nightcap, but with more ominous side effects.
Though this might be treading familiar ground, it bears repeating:
Fluorescent and LED lights emit blue light, which delays the body’s production of melatonin and decreases feelings of sleepiness, making your bedtime routine more challenging. Using social media, and constantly refreshing your feed, makes you rabid for dopamine, further mucking up the quality of your sleep.
The best thing to do is to eliminate your phone from your bedtime routine. It’s difficult since much of our lives revolve around that tiny screen, but substituting a news feed for reading a book — preferably a good one — will do wonders for your sleep.
If you absolutely cannot avoid your phone for whatever reason, most phones have a nighttime feature with a blue light filter that will minimize the side effects of normal, everyday use.
Still, you’re not doing yourself much good when going down an Internet rabbit hole in the dead of night.
Having a set, dependable, and calming end-of-day routine will do wonders for your sleeping habits. In a way, your routine is a culmination of the aforementioned steps. Though strong on their own, combining these habits into a single, easy-to-do routine will make your nights infinitely more restful.
Sleep Foundation defines a bedtime routine as “a set of activities you perform in the same order, every night, in the 30 to 60 minutes before you go to bed.”
Establishing a clear routine helps our brain understand that it is indeed time to go to bed, according to Sleep Foundation. Picking up that book by the bed stand, steeping in that bag of chamomile tea, applying that melatonin-laced lotion, or taking a warm bath tells your brain that the day is ending and it’s time to get some much-needed rest.
A bedtime routine tells your body it’s time to rest and unwind.
Following a clear sequence of activities can eliminate feelings of uncertainty and anxiety from creeping into your valuable sleep time, which is often a precursor to insomnia.
We can use a little structure in our lives — might as well do it in our sleep.
The self-help craze heavily focuses on how to best use our time throughout the day, sometimes leaving the importance of sleep by the wayside. The tempo of everyday life is hectic and runs at a breakneck pace, so the idea of getting those recommended eight hours feels more of a burden than a restorative joy.
But that’s how we should look at sleep: a recharging of our inner batteries, a way to truly clear our minds in preparation for the days ahead.
Once you look at healthy sleep for all its benefits and not its supposed drawbacks, you will be a more alert, awake, mindful, happier, and overall better version of yourself.
Now go buy some candles.